If you walk into several offices at the provincial health department’s head office at the Bank of Lisbon building in downtown Johannesburg, you are likely to find administrative staff sitting on the floor.
On Thursday the sheriff arrived at the offices and removed two truckloads of furniture from four floors in the building in a bid to force the department to settle payment of a R6.2-million negligence claim awarded against it.
The negligence claim relates to a protracted legal battle between the department and the parents of a child who suffered brain damage during birth at the Pholosong Hospital in December 2009. The seven-year legal battle drew to a close on March 8 with a cost order being awarded against the department.
But it is yet to settle.
“It is a terrible injustice that this case has dragged on for more than seven years, with further suffering for the child and her family, and now the department delays further,” said Jack Bloom, the DA’s Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health.
On Thursday, according to the writ of attachment, the sheriff removed:
• 400 desks;
• 600 chairs
• 400 computers;
• 200 filing cabinets
• 50 printers
• 10 fridges;
• 10 microwaves; and
• three lounge suites
Asked by Daily Maverick to comment on the attachment of its furniture, its impact on the health department staff to do their work and on the department’s failure to pay the negligence claim, department spokesman Prince Hamnca said: “All I am willing to say is that we are concerned that the furniture has been taken from the offices, but that was a court order from the Sheriff.”
“I am appalled that the department has yet again disregarded a court-ordered payment,” said Bloom, while accusing the Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramokgopa, of downplaying the effect of the removal of truckloads of furniture.
An employee at the department and branch secretary of the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union, Charles Phasa, said the working conditions were “very bad” as everything with any value was taken.
“This is not something new. Every year the sheriff comes in and the department waits until the 11th hour to negotiate some sort of way to cover their payments, but this time around it is just too much,” Phasa said.
According to Phasa the department has urged its workers to be patient while it attempted to address the issue.
The health department finds itself in a pool of debt which includes outstanding payments to suppliers and medical negligence cases and in May this year faced a R10.9-billion funding gap as budgeted funds were all taken up by salaries, accumulated debt and payments for negligence.
Medical negligence claims have increased significantly in recent years. From just over R8-million paid out by the Gauteng Department of Health in 2010/11, almost R154-million was paid out by the same department in 2013/14. Contingent liabilities for medical malpractice (money that the department would have to pay should all medical negligence claimants be successful in their claims) in 2016 in Gauteng sat at over R13-billion.
Bloom said the Gauteng Provincial Government was being destabilised by the endless financial woes of the Health Department, which faces a potential medico-legal liability of more than R13-billion and owes large sums to suppliers as well.
“Delays in payment also add to the costs as a 10.5% penalty interest is charged – in this case, this amounts to more than R300,000,” Bloom said. DM
Photo: Gauteng premier David Makhura speaks at a Gauteng township economy revitalisation summit in Soweto, Tuesday, 7 October 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA